Mar 052015
 

Analysis of substances on the rubber glove after a handshake revealed that chemicals from human secretions were transmitted through handshake alone. CREDIT Weizmann Institute of Science

Analysis of substances on the rubber glove after a handshake revealed that chemicals from human secretions were transmitted through handshake alone.
CREDIT
Weizmann Institute of Science

Not only do people often sniff their own hands, but they do so for a much longer time after shaking someone else’s hand, the study has found. As reported today in the journal eLife, the number of seconds the subjects spent sniffing their own right hand more than doubled after an experimenter greeted them with a handshake.

“Our findings suggest that people are not just passively exposed to socially-significant chemical signals, but actively seek them out,” said Idan Frumin, the research student who conducted the study under the guidance of Prof. Noam Sobel of Weizmann’s Neurobiology Department. “Rodents, dogs and other mammals commonly sniff themselves, and they sniff one another in social interactions, and it seems that in the course of evolution, humans have retained this practice – only on a subliminal level.”

To examine whether handshakes indeed transfer body odors, the researchers first had experimenters wearing gloves shake the subjects’ bare hands, then tested the glove for smell residues. They found that a handshake alone was sufficient for the transfer of several odors known to serve as meaningful chemical signals in mammals. “It’s well known that germs can be passed on through skin contact in handshakes, but we’ve shown that potential chemical messages, known as chemosignals, can be passed on in the same manner,” Frumin says.

Next, to explore the potential role of handshakes in communicating odors, the scientists used covert cameras to film some 280 volunteers before and after they were greeted by an experimenter, who either shook their hand or didn’t. The researchers found that after shaking hands with an experimenter of the same gender, subjects more than doubled the time they later spent sniffing their own right hand (the shaking one). In contrast, after shaking hands with an experimenter of the opposite gender, subjects increased the sniffing of their own left hand (the non-shaking one). “The sense of smell plays a particularly important role in interactions within gender, not only across gender as commonly assumed,” Frumin says.

The scientists then performed a series of tests to make sure the hand-sniffing indeed served the purpose of checking out odors and was not merely a stress-related response to a strange situation. First, they measured nasal airflow during the task and found that subjects were truly sniffing their hands and not just lifting them to their nose. It turned out that the amount of air inhaled by the volunteers through the nose doubled when they brought their hands to their face. Next, the scientists found they could manipulate the hand-sniffing by artificially introducing different smells into the experimental setting. For example, when experimenters were tainted with a commercial unisex perfume, the hand-sniffing increased. In contrast, when the experimenters were tainted with odors derived from sex hormones, the sniffing decreased. These final tests confirmed the olfactory nature of the hand-sniffing behavior.

Taking part in the study were Ofer Perl, Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, Ami Eisen, Neetai Eshel, Iris Heller, Maya Shemesh, Aharon Ravia, Dr. Lee Sela and Dr. Anat Arzi, all of Prof. Sobel’s lab

“Handshakes vary in strength, duration and posture, so they convey social information of various sorts,” says Prof. Sobel. “But our findings suggest that at its evolutionary origins, handshaking might have also served to convey odor signals, and such signaling may still be a meaningful, albeit subliminal, component of this custom.”

Source: Weizmann Institute

 

Feb 272015
 
 
 
 
 

 

Feb 262015
 

Our friends may know better than we which of our traits will send us to an early grave, according to a 75-year personality study that tracked mortality of 300 engaged couples starting in the 1930s. CREDIT WikiMedia Commons

Our friends may know better than we which of our traits will send us to an early grave, according to a 75-year personality study that tracked mortality of 300 engaged couples starting in the 1930s.
CREDIT
WikiMedia Commons

Young lovers walking down the aisle may dream of long and healthy lives together, but close friends in the wedding party may have a better sense of whether those wishes will come true, suggests new research on personality and longevity from Washington University in St. Louis.

“You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

Published Jan. 12 in an advance online issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study demonstrates that your personality at an early age (20s) can predict how long you will live across 75 years and that close friends are usually better than you at recognizing these traits.

Male participants seen by their friends as more open and conscientious ended up living longer. Female participants whose friends rated them as high on emotional stability and agreeableness also enjoyed longer lifespans, the study found.

“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a friend’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road,” Jackson said. “It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health even when their friends were, for the most part, healthy and many years from death.”

It’s no secret that a person’s personality traits can have an impact on health. Traits such as depression and anger have been linked to an increased risk of various diseases and health concerns, including an early death.

Men who are conscientious are more likely to eat right, stick with an exercise routine and avoid risks, such as driving without a seat belt. Women who are emotionally stable may be better at fighting off anger, anxiety and depression, Jackson suggests.

While other studies have shown that a person’s view of his or her own personality can be helpful in gauging mortality risk, there has been little research on whether a close friend’s personality assessment might also predict the odds of a long life.

To explore this question, Jackson and colleagues analyzed data from a longitudinal study that in the 1930s began following a group of young people in their mid-20s, most of whom were engaged to be married.

The longitudinal study included extensive data on participant personality traits, both self-reported and as reported by close friends, including bridesmaids and groomsmen in the study participants’ wedding parties.

Using information from previous follow-up studies and searches of death certificates, Jackson and colleagues were able to document dates of death for all but a few study participants. Peer ratings of personality were stronger predictors of mortality risk than were self-ratings of personality.

“There are two potential reasons for the superiority of peer ratings over self ratings,” Jackson said.

“First, friends may see something that you miss; they may have some insight that you do not. Second, because people have multiple friends, we are able to average the idiosyncrasies of any one friend to obtain a more reliable assessment of personality. With self reports, people may be biased or miss certain aspects of themselves and we are not able to counteract that because there is only one you, only one self-report.”

The study also revealed some gender differences in self-assessment: Men’s self-ratings of personality traits were somewhat useful in predicting their lifespans, whereas the self-reports of women had little predictive value.

Jackson suggests this gender difference in self-reporting may be a function of the era in which the study began, since societal expectations were different then and fewer women worked outside the home.

Young women seen as highly agreeable and emotionally stable may have increased odds for a long and happy life since their personalities were well suited for the role of a supportive and easy-going wife, which would have been the norm in the 1930s. It is likely that fewer gender differences would arise in more modern samples if we were able to wait 75 years to replicate the study, he said.

“This is one of the longest studies in psychology,” Jackson said. “It shows how important personality is in influencing significant life outcomes like health and demonstrates that information from friends and other observers can play a critical role in understanding a person’s health issues. For example, it suggests that family members and even physician ratings could be used to personalize medical treatments or identify who is at risk for certain health ailments.”

 

Source: WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS

Feb 262015
 

Businessman holding melting clock. Time stressThe modern schedule is infamously frantic, leaving many of us feeling constantly pressed for time. But that feeling may not have much to do with time itself, according to a new study in the Journal of Marketing Research.

“Beyond the number of activities actually competing for their time, emotional conflict between activities makes consumers feel that they have even less time,” write authors Jordan Etkin (Duke University), Ioannis Evangelidis (Erasmus University), and Jennifer Aaker (Stanford University). “Emotions such as guilt about where time is being spent or fear over loss of income both generate stress, and make a person feel more pressed for time than they actually are.”

The study asked participants to list tasks that took a certain amount of time, and to then envision completing these tasks. Participants were then asked to imagine that tasks were in conflict with one another. In some cases the tasks actually competed for time, but in others, they were felt to be in competition for emotional or financial reasons only.

When participants thought certain activities were in conflict with one another, they felt even more pressed for time due to a feeling of increased anxiety over the conflict. This anxiety increased regardless of whether the conflict was physical, or simply emotional.

The authors identify two simple strategies to help people reduce false feelings of being pressed for time: slow breathing, and channeling amped-up feelings of stress into more productive high-energy emotions such as excitement. Both techniques were successful in making participants feel that they weren’t as pressed for time as they had first feared.

“Feeling pressed for time impacts how consumers spend time, and how much they are willing to pay to save it. From a consumer standpoint, feeling pressed for time can have many harmful consequences such as poorer health, trouble sleeping, and depression. By pausing to breathe or envision the source of stress in a more positive light, people can enjoy the time they actually have in a healthier and happier way,” conclude the authors.

Feb 262015
 

MovieSeventy five percent of movies earn a net loss during their run in theaters. A new study in theJournal of Marketing Research finds that brain activity visible through EEG measures may be a much cheaper and more accurate way to predict the commercial success of movies.

“Several decades of research have shown that many important mental processes occur below the surface of consciousness, leaving people very limited in their ability to predict their own future behavior,” write authors Maarten A. S. Boksem and Ale Smidts of Erasmus University. “This study suggests that neuroimaging technologies such as EEG machines can reveal information that is not obtainable through conventional marketing surveys.”

The authors sat participants in comfortable chairs in a darkened room in front of a computer screen with a pair of speakers. Participants were then hooked up to EEG machines, and asked to view 18 movie trailers in random order while their brain activity was recorded. After watching each trailer, the participants were asked to rate how much they liked the trailer they’d just seen, and how much they’d be willing to pay for a DVD of each film.

Finally, after they had watched all 18 trailers, study subjects were presented with the DVDS for the 18 films. The authors asked viewers to sort the DVDs by preference, and participants were given the three DVDs they most preferred.

The study found that the EEG readings were notably more accurate than the participants’ conscious statements in predicting which film the participant would actually choose.

“This study has shown that compared to traditional surveys, EEG machines capture more accurate and complete information regarding what the consumer will actually do. EEG tests are relatively cheap, and even a modest increase in ability to predict consumer choice is likely to be of immeasurable value to marketers,” conclude the authors.

Source:  AMERICAN MARKETING ASSOCIATION

Feb 262015
 

woman graduate student unemploymentUnemployment can change peoples’ core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“The results challenge the idea that our personalities are ‘fixed’ and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality,” said Christopher J. Boyce, PhD, of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom. “This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought.”

Boyce and his colleagues examined a sample of 6,769 German adults (3,733 men and 3,036 women) who took a standard personality test at two points over four years, from 2006-2009. Of this group, 210 were unemployed for anywhere from one to four years during the experiment; another 251 of them were unemployed less than a year but then got jobs. The findings were published in APA’s Journal of Applied Psychology.

The researchers looked at the so-called “Big Five” personality traits – conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. They found that men experienced increased agreeableness during the first two years of unemployment, compared to men who never lost their jobs. But after two years, the agreeableness levels of the unemployed men began to diminish and, in the long run, were lower than those of the men with jobs. For women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.

“In early unemployment stages, there may be incentives for individuals to behave agreeably in an effort to secure another job or placate those around them,” the researchers wrote, “but in later years when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken.”

With respect to conscientiousness, the longer men spent without jobs, the larger their reduction in this trait, which is also tied to enjoying one’s income, according to the researchers. In comparison, women became more conscientious in the early and late stages of unemployment but experienced a slump in the middle of the study period. The researchers theorized that women may have regained some conscientiousness by pursuing non-work-related activities traditionally associated with their gender, such as caregiving.

Unemployed men showed steady levels of openness in their first year of joblessness, but the levels decreased the longer they were unemployed. Women, in contrast, showed sharp reductions in openness in the second and third years of unemployment but rebounded in year four, according to the study.

The study suggests that the effect of unemployment across society is more than just an economic concern — the unemployed may be unfairly stigmatized as a result of unavoidable personality change, potentially creating a downward cycle of difficulty in the labor market, Boyce said.

“Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed,” Boyce said. “Policies to reduce unemployment are therefore vital not only to protect the economy but also to enable positive personality growth in individuals.”

Source: AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION

Feb 262015
 

A pilot study from North Carolina State University finds that people are not consistent in how they prepare mentally to deal with arguments and other stressors, with each individual displaying a variety of coping behaviors. In addition, the study found that the coping strategies people used could affect them the following day.

The findings stem from a pilot study of older adults, which is the first to track the day-to-day coping behaviors people use in advance of stressful events.

“This finding tells us, for the first time, that these behaviors are dynamic,” says Dr. Shevaun Neupert, lead author of a paper describing the study and an associate professor of psychology at NC State. “This highlights a whole new area for researching the psychology of daily health and well-being.

“And these are behaviors that can be taught,” Neupert adds. “The more we understand what’s really going on, the better we’ll be able to help people deal effectively with the stressors that come up in their lives.”

To learn more about how older adults prepare themselves mentally ahead of stressful events, the researchers developed a pilot study of 43 adults between the ages of 60 and 96.

Participants were asked to fill out a daily questionnaire on their activities and feelings – including whether anything stressful had happened – on the current day. Participants were also asked to predict whether they expected there to be a stressful event the following day, and how they were preparing for it. The participants were asked to complete the questionnaire on eight consecutive days. The researchers ultimately had data on 380 days, since some participants missed reporting days.

“The reporting was done using very specific questions with clearly defined metrics, such as ranking how stressed they felt on a scale of one to five,” Neupert explains. The questionnaires also asked participants the extent to which they were engaging in specific behaviors associated with coping with upcoming potential stressors.

The results found that people used different coping behaviors to prepare for different stressors, and that those coping behaviors changed from day to day.

“The findings tell us that one person may use multiple coping mechanisms over time – something that’s pretty exciting since we didn’t know this before,” Neupert says. “But we also learned that what you do on Monday really makes a difference for how you feel on Tuesday.”

Some anticipatory coping behaviors, particularly outcome fantasy and stagnant deliberation, were associated with people being in worse moods and reporting more physical health problems the following day. Stagnant deliberation is when someone tries, unsuccessfully, to solve a problem. Outcome fantasy is when someone wishes that problem would effectively solve itself.

However, stagnant deliberation was also associated with one positive outcome. Namely, stagnant deliberation the day before an argument was correlated with fewer memory failures after the argument.

The researchers also looked at plan rehearsal and problem analysis as anticipatory coping strategies. Plan rehearsal involves mentally envisioning the steps needed to solve the potential problem, and problem analysis is actively thinking about the source and meaning of a future problem. The researchers found that the use of these strategies changed from day to day, but the changes in these strategies were not related to well-being the next day. They were also not related to the way that people responded to arguments the next day.

“This was a pilot study, so we don’t want to get carried away,” Neupert says. “But these findings are very intriguing. They raise a lot of questions, and we’re hoping to follow up with a much larger study.”

 

Source: NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY

Feb 242015
 

Dietary advice that emphasizes just one rule – consume at least 30g of fiber a day – is nearly as effective as advice to follow the more complicated American Heart Association (AHA) diet plan for inducing weight loss and improving metabolic symptoms, according to an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The AHA diet is proven effective for preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, but the diet’s many rules may make adherence a challenge for some. Researchers hypothesized that a more permissive diet that focused on one dietary change would be superior to the AHA intervention for weight loss, dietary quality, metabolic health, and adherence. The researchers randomly assigned 240 adults with metabolic syndrome to follow either the AHA diet plan (eat more fruits and vegetables; eat whole grain/high fiber foods; eat fish twice weekly; consume lean proteins; minimize sugar and sodium intake; limit alcohol; aim for a specific ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; and limit saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol) or to increase their daily fiber intake to at least 30g a day. Patients in both groups were given instructions on their diets but had no exercise requirements.

At one year, participants in both diet groups lost weight and showed improvement in blood pressure, dietary quality, and insulin resistance. While the AHA diet group lost more weight (up to 3.7 lbs), the authors conclude that a simplified approach to weight reduction may be a reasonable alternative for persons with difficulty adhering to more complicated diet regimens.

Source: AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS

Feb 242015
 

Luxury close up portrait of attractive girl with cigaretThe scientific journal Addiction has published a collection of peer-reviewed research papers and commentaries that bring together key parts of the evidence base for standardised packaging of tobacco products from 2008 to 2015.

The English government recently announced that it will be putting regulations on standardised packaging to a vote before the general election in May 2015. If the vote is passed, England will be the second country in the world to mandate standardised packaging, following Australia’s example, and there is a strong likelihood that the measure would also be introduced in the other jurisdictions of the United Kingdom.

This collection documents the growing evidence base on the likely effectiveness of standardised packaging in reducing smoking.

Key findings are:

  • Plain packaging may reduce smoking rates in current smokers by reducing the extent to which the package acts as an unconscious trigger for smoking urges.
  • Following Australia’s 2012 policy of plain packaging and larger pictorial health warnings on cigarette and tobacco packs, smoking in outdoor areas of cafés, restaurants, and bars declined, and fewer people made their packs clearly visible on tables.
  • Consumer research by the tobacco industry between 1973 and 2002 found that variations in packaging shape, size and opening method could influence brand appeal and risk perceptions and thereby increase cigarette sales.
  • Removing brand imagery from cigarette packets seems to increase visual attention to health warnings in occasional and experimental adolescent smokers, but not among daily adolescent smokers.
  • Standardised packaging could be more effective than larger health warnings in undermining the appeal of cigarette brands and reducing intention to buy cigarettes.

Professor Ann McNeill, who wrote an introduction to the collection, says “Arguably, for an addictive product that kills so many of its users, the tobacco industry should consider itself fortunate that, purely through historical precedent, it is allowed to sell its toxic products at all, let alone try to make them attractive through the packaging. However, it is evidence on the likely public health impact that is the primary basis for the policy on standardised packaging.”

Professor Robert West, Editor-in-Chief of Addiction, says “Even if standardised packaging had no effect at all on current smokers and only stopped 1 in 20 young people from being lured into smoking it would save about 2,000 lives each year.”

Source: WILEY

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